Sixth Avenue, a local hot spot in Tacoma for dining and nightlife, is starting to attract attention from outside the city.

New business openings and investments from current restaurant owners are helping drive this trend.

Brothers Chris and Stu Miller, who bought The Red Hot restaurant with their parents in 2007, are no exception.

They’re busy remodeling the space next door, where they plan to move operations in May. The space, on corner of N. Junett St. and Sixth Ave., formerly occupied by seasonal clothing store The Wedding Bell, is three times larger and will offer some much needed elbow room for patrons.

“Since we started, it’s been huge. I like to think a lot of it is word of mouth,” said Stu Miller of his niche bar, which serves hot dogs, sausage and a variety of craft beers.

Seats fill up fast, even on weeknights, he said, leaving a generous sized crowd to eat and drink standing in the middle of the bar. Last year was the eatery’s busiest year yet, and, with the title of Best Hot Dog in Western Washington from KING 5’s Evening Magazine, the establishment seems poised to do well in its new location.

Along with the additional space, there will be more beer, 25 handles up from 15, and more menu items.

“We’re trying to become a destination for craft beer. That’s going to be a big part of the expansion. The beer is about to come to a new level,” said manager Jeff Lee.

But Lee was quick to point out his restaurant isn’t the only one undergoing some changes to keep customers coming in.

“E9 went through a total revamp of their menu,” he said.

That changeup coincided with X Group Restaurants, Catering and Brewery, which owns and operates Asado and Masa, purchasing Engine House No. 9 and The E9 Brewery in August 2011.

“The menu’s evolution began the day we took over and continues today,” explained Jeff Paradise, partner and director of operations for X Group.

He and his partners started bringing in fresher, more seasonal items and added new menu items, such as their Fire Axe Chop Salad and California Turkey Burger. They also replaced much of the kitchen and bar equipment, brought in two new pizza ovens and re-purposed the adjacent patio into indoor dining and shuffleboard and gaming space.

The brewery has also taken off since their acquisition, which Paradise attributes to E9’s head brewer, Shane Johns.

Since they started distributing their beer in Seattle and Olympia, Paradise said he’s seen, “many beer aficionados make the trek down to Tacoma to see E9 and try the beer.”

“As the district has evolved, we have seen more outside publications refer to Sixth Avenue as a new force in Tacoma,” Paradise said. “On any given night, it’s not uncommon for people to wander between our three locations, from Masa, Asado or E9, over to Red Hot or up to Jazzbones, the Crown Bar and down the Ave. to Dirty Oscar’s Annex. If someone is looking for something to do, eat, dance, listen to music or have a nice dinner, Sixth Ave. represents an area where they can do it all.”

Ricardo Noguera, community and economic development director for City of Tacoma, agrees.

“I do see a lot more traffic along Sixth Avenue, both pedestrian and vehicular. There’s definitely some real good destination restaurants between Sprague and Alder,” Noguero said. “As more of these spaces fill up and we diversify, we’re going to draw more folks, not just from the neighborhood, but outside the city limits.”

Like many local business owners, Paradise and his partners aren’t content with where they are; they’re constantly innovating. The next step for this team is developing a breakfast menu for E9, Paradise said.

 

Primo Grill plans move, redesign on Sixth Ave.

Husband-wife owners Charlie McManus and Jacqueline Plattner are very much like their fellow restaurant owners on Sixth Avenue.

The duo, who opened Primo Grill in 1999 and Crown Bar in 2007, are planning a mid-year move to relocate Primo Grill from 601 South Pine Street to 2701 Sixth Avenue, bringing both their businesses under one roof. 

The move makes financial sense for McManus and Plattner, whose lease on Pine Street is up at the same time as their tenant’s down the street. But the move also gives them the chance to somewhat reinvent their establishment.

“It gives us an opportunity to restyle the Primo experience for our customers,” said McManus. “It will be the same cuisine, but it is a completely a redesigned restaurant.”

Their existing 3,300-square-foot space on Pine Street is more triangular, with a curved bar and some additional seating upstairs, while their new space is slightly larger, about 3,700 square feet on a single floor, and rectangular. The private dining space currently housed upstairs will be a secluded area within the dining room at the new restaurant, which can double as overflow seating as needed. The bar will also be a more prominent feature and there will be two large, garage-style windows that open on Sixth Avenue and North Oakes Street for outdoor seating in the summer months.

The painted tables and metal sculptures that mark Primo’s location on Pine Street will be replaced with more organic décor.

“It will have more wood accent,” said McManus. “There will be wood floors. We’ve been able to reclaim schoolhouse frosted glass lamps from the original post office. We have 13 of those. We’ll have reclaimed Doug fir wood floors, Douglas fir tabletops.”

Staff and former students at Tacoma Community College are creating a 30-foot mural depicting a view of the Puyallup Valley from Mount Rainier to Tacoma, which will be hung on one of the walls in the new restaurant. 

With time, the menu at Primo, and at Crown Bar, which will be adjacent to Primo after its move, will evolve.

“There’s going to be a lot of synergy, even though they’re not connected,” McManus said. “The menu is going to gradually change as we’re closer to it and able to put more input into it.”

At Primo, diners can expect to see more local products available, more vegetarian appetizers and more pasta made in-house. McManus said he’s also getting a smoker, which will likely be used for menu items, such as smoked meats, at both Primo Grill and Crown Bar.

The move, which has been in the works for about two years, is expected to take place in July, leaving Primo Grill closed for about a week.